When one’s mental health is affected, delivering quality healthcare becomes difficult at best, says Amiee Mingus, Vice President of Clinical Operations for PE GI Solutions.
“Delivering the level of care patients expect can be impossible when staff aren’t feeling confident or are feeling anxious and burnt out. Unfortunately, this is a growing concern and definitely something we all need to be paying closer attention to.”
How big of a challenge is the mental health of healthcare workers? Consider these statistics:
- From a 2022 survey of 5,000 frontline healthcare workers, 91% reported feeling stress, 83% reported anxiety, 81% reported feeling exhaustion/burnout and 71% reported being overwhelmed. More than half of all workers had questioned their career path in the three months prior to the survey.
- A 2022 survey of more than 1,500 physicians found that 6 in 10 felt inappropriate feelings of anger, tearfulness or anxiety; one-third had felt hopeless or that they have no purpose; and 6 in 10 often had feelings of burnout — up from 4 in 10 in 2018.
- The medical and health services industry was ranked the most stressful industry, according to the results of a 2023 survey of more than 1,000 U.S. workers about job stress.
Further complicating matters is the pressure on healthcare workers to focus on patients and not themselves, says Teresa Chaisson, senior director of clinical support, compliance and risk management for PE GI Solutions. “There is a global perception that we as healthcare workers are supposed to suppress all emotions so we can do our jobs. But all that has done is contribute to burnout, dysfunction and unhealthy practices that can lead to self-harm.”
For GI centers and practices, making mental health a priority helps ensure patients receive the care they deserve. But the benefits can go much further, says Chaisson. “You may retain your staff for longer, you may keep them from diverting drugs, you may keep staff from mistreating patients or one another, and you’re going to help prevent negativity that damages your culture.”
Areas of Focus
Fortunately, there are many ways you can elevate the importance of mental health among your staff and create a more supportive, safer and healthier work environment. One place to start: identifying staff mental health as a key issue for your center.
A Harvard Business Review column on burnout states, “Leaders must treat mental health as an organizational priority with accountability mechanisms such as regular pulse surveys and clear ownership. It should not just be relegated to [human resources]. Leaders should serve as allies by sharing their own personal experiences to foster an environment of transparency and openness.”
Once leadership acknowledges the importance of mental health, which should help reduce some of the stigma associated with the subject, it may become easier to implement a program aimed at reducing work-related stress. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) developed the “Total Worker Health” (TWH) program for business managers and supervisors. The TWH approach, NIOSH notes, “… prioritizes a hazard-free work environment for all workers.”
How can you achieve this type of environment? The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that a program to reduce work-related stress might include implementing policies that eliminate the root causes of stress, such as excess demands or workplace bullying, while also providing workers with increased flexibility and control over their work and schedules. CDC also calls attention to the value of providing training for supervisors on ways to reduce stressful working conditions and training for all staff on how to improve stress management and reduction.
Another key facet of such a program recommended by CDC: providing staff with access to employee assistance programs (EAP). The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) notes, “EAPs can help employees with personal problems that affect their job performance. EAPs can identify and address a wide range of health, financial, and social issues, including mental and/or substance use disorders.” There are various types of EAPs, including those provided by health insurance carriers.
Chaisson is a strong advocate for EAPs, acknowledging that she has benefitted from their services, including the opportunity to receive debriefing treatment. A Psychology Today column defines debriefing as: “… a specific technique designed to assist others in dealing with the physical or psychological symptoms that are generally associated with trauma exposure.”
If center staff experience a traumatic incident, debriefing can help staff better process the experience, Chaisson says. “We need to encourage healthcare professionals and the general public to accept that sometimes we need to debrief ourselves. Using an EAP is not a weakness.”
While nearly all mid-to-large companies offer EAPs, only about 4% of employees use them each year, according to Mental Health America (MHA). Reasons for low usage include lack of employee awareness that an EAP exists, the services available and how to access the services. MHA recommends several tactics to increase EAP awareness and education. Among them: sharing information about the EAP throughout the year, inviting an EAP representative to discuss services and ensuring management is aware of the services that are available.
Given that mental health is still largely stigmatized, MHA advises companies to not just focus on the mental health services associated with an EAP. EAP services may also include financial planning education, family assistance and caregiver resources. MHA states, “The intention of an EAP is to help employees maintain a positive work-life balance and serve as an additional support when life matters interfere with performing at their best at work.”
The American Psychological Association (APA) recommends that business leaders review their existing health insurance policies to determine whether they include adequate coverage for mental health, behavioral health and substance use disorders.
APA also advises leaders to look for ways to strengthen their plans by removing barriers to accessing support. “For example, choose a plan with out-of-network mental health benefits so employees can access clinicians who may not be in network with your provider. You should also ensure that mental health benefits and resources are easily accessible, understandable, and support employees across the continuum of mental wellness.”
Helping Staff Help Themselves
Keeping mental health in the spotlight through these and other efforts should help you achieve another important goal: getting staff to speak up when they are struggling with their mental health. That’s especially important given what has transpired over the past few years.
The COVID-19 pandemic heaped even greater stress on healthcare workers, with a survey from June-September 2020 revealing that 93% of health workers reported being stressed out and stretched too thin and 82% saying they were emotionally and physically exhausted. “COVID brought out the stress, anxiety and issues that were already there in healthcare, but made them much more exacerbated,” Mingus says.
A silver lining of the pandemic was that talking about mental health, including one’s own situation, has become less stigmatized, Mingus says. “Mental health has come to the forefront. Before COVID, people weren’t upfront about their mental health because they were worried about losing their jobs or being looked down upon. That seems to be changing.”
Centers can help keep this positive momentum going by giving the mental health of staff greater attention and appreciation, Chaisson says. “We must continue to work to change the perception of healthcare workers. If we’re going to reduce burnout and dysfunction, we must allow healthcare workers to be human.”
Additional mental health sources
- “Mental Health Resources for Employers” from Mental Health America
- “Workplace Well‑Being Resources” from the Office of the Surgeon General
- “Mental Health at Work” from the U.S. Department of Labor
- “StigmaFree Company” from the National Alliance on Mental Illness
This story was originally published in the October 2023 issue of the PE GI Journal by PE GI Solutions. PE GI Solutions is now a part of SCA Health. To read more from this and past issues of the journal, click here.